CIAO DATE: 11/01

Combating Terrorism: Selected Challenges and Related Recommendations

Report to Congressional Committees
United States General Accounting Office
September 2001


September 20, 2001

The Honorable Carl Levin
The Honorable John Warner
Ranking Minority Member
Committee on Armed Services
United States Senate

The Honorable Bob Stump
The Honorable Ike Skelton
Ranking Democratic Member
Committee on Armed Services
House of Representatives

We at the U.S. General Accounting Office, as all Americans, were shocked by the coordinated terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., on September 11, 2001. This report, which already was scheduled for release this month before the events of September 11, summarizes federal efforts to combat terrorism prior to these events. Given the tragic events of September 11, it is clear that combating terrorism efforts are now at the top of the national agenda. This report does not include recent efforts made in light of these recent attacks. While this report is a dispassionate and analytical discussion of the progress made and challenges faced by the federal government and the nation, we recognize the terrible cost of terrorism in human terms. The events of September 11 remind us that the victims of terrorism are real people—men, women, and children—and are our families, colleagues, friends, and neighbors. Our hearts go out to the victims, including the heroic first responders who were lost, and their families. We hope that this report promotes a reasoned discussion and additional actions designed to better prepare the nation to combat terrorism.

Concerned that terrorists might use weapons of mass destruction—a chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear agent or weapon—against civilian targets within the United States, or attack critical infrastructure through computer systems, the Congress and various federal agencies have undertaken numerous initiatives over the past few years designed to improve the nation's ability to combat terrorism. As mandated in section 1035 of the Floyd D. Spence National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2001 (P.L. 106-398, Oct. 30, 2000), we reviewed the strategy, policies, and programs to combat domestic terrorism, particularly domestic terrorism involving weapons of mass destruction. We briefed your staffs previously on the preliminary results of our work. This report contains the final results of our review.

In response to the mandate and, as agreed with your offices, this report assesses (1) the current framework for leadership and coordination of federal agencies' efforts to combat terrorism on U.S. soil, and proposals for change, (2) progress the federal government has made in developing and implementing a national strategy to combat terrorism domestically, (3) the federal government's capabilities to respond to a domestic terrorist incident, (4) progress the federal government has made in helping state and local emergency responders prepare for a terrorist incident, and (5) progress made in developing and implementing a federal strategy for combating cyber-based attacks. This capping report updates and summarizes our extensive evaluations conducted in recent years of federal programs to combat domestic terrorism and protect critical infrastructure. We include a series of Recommendations for Executive Action, including three recommendations to the President, to improve overall leadership and coordination of federal efforts to combat terrorism as well as other improvements. Agency comments on a draft of this report were based on their efforts prior to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

We are sending copies of this report to other interested congressional committees. We also are sending copies to the President; the Vice President; the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, State, Transportation, the Treasury, and Veterans Affairs; and the Attorney General. In addition, we are sending copies to the Director, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; the Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the Director of Central Intelligence; the Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency; the Director, Federal Emergency Management Agency; the Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Administrator, General Services Administration; the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs; the Assistant to the President for Science and Technology; the Director, Office of Management and Budget; the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard; and the Director, U.S. Secret Service. We will make copies available to other interested parties upon request. This report also will be available on GAO's web site at

If you or your offices have any questions about matters discussed in this report, please contact me at (202) 512-5500; Henry L. Hinton, Jr., Managing Director, Defense Capabilities and Management, at (202) 512-4300; or Raymond J. Decker, Director, at (202) 512-6020. They also can be reached by e-mail at and, respectively. Contacts and key contributors are listed in appendix XVII.

David M. Walker
Comptroller General
of the United States

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